Three Moments of an Explosion

Three Moments of an Explosion

by China Mieville


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NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The Washington Post • NPR • The Guardian • Kirkus Reviews  The fiction of multiple award–winning author China Miéville is powered by intelligence and imagination. Like George Saunders, Karen Russell, and David Mitchell, he pulls from a variety of genres with equal facility, employing the fantastic not to escape from reality but instead to interrogate it in provocative, unexpected ways.
London awakes one morning to find itself besieged by a sky full of floating icebergs. Destroyed oil rigs, mysteriously reborn, clamber from the sea and onto the land, driven by an obscure purpose. An anatomy student cuts open a cadaver to discover impossibly intricate designs carved into a corpse’s bones—designs clearly present from birth, bearing mute testimony to . . . what?
Of such concepts and unforgettable images are made the twenty-eight stories in this collection—many published here for the first time. By turns speculative, satirical, and heart-wrenching, fresh in form and language, and featuring a cast of damaged yet hopeful seekers who come face-to-face with the deep weirdness of the world—and at times the deeper weirdness of themselves—Three Moments of an Explosion is a fitting showcase for one of literature’s most original voices.

Praise for Three Moments of an Explosion
“China Miéville is dazzling. His latest collection of short stories, Three Moments of an Explosion, crowds virtuosity into every sentence.”The New York Times
“You can’t talk about [China] Miéville without using the word ‘brilliant.’ . . . His wit dazzles, his humour is lively, and the pure vitality of his imagination is astonishing.”—Ursula K. Le Guin, The Guardian
“[A] gripping collection . . . Miéville expertly mixes science fiction, fantasy and surrealism. . . . Amid the longer stories are more cerebral, poetic flash pieces that will haunt the reader beyond the pages of this exceptional book.”—The Washington Post
“The stories shine . . . with a winking brilliance.”—The Seattle Times
“Mind-bending excursions into the fantastic.”—NPR
“Bradbury meets Borges, with Lovecraft gibbering tumultuously just out of hearing.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Three Moments of an Explosion is a book filled with fabulous oddities.”Entertainment Weekly
“Miéville moves effortlessly among realism, fantasy, and surrealism. . . . His characters, whether ordinary witnesses to extraordinary events or lunatics operating out of inexplicable compulsions, are invariably well drawn and compelling.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101884782
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/07/2016
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 552,163
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

China Miéville is the author of numerous books, including The City & The City, Embassytown, Railsea, and Perdido Street Station. His works have won the World Fantasy Award, the Hugo Award, and the Arthur C. Clarke Award (three times). He lives and works in London.

Read an Excerpt


When cold masses first started to congeal above London, they did not show up on radar. By the time they started to, perhaps two hours later, hundreds of thousands of people were already out in the streets and gaping skyward. They shielded their eyes—it was cloudy but very bright. They looked up at glowing things the size of cathedrals, looming above the skyline.

They’d started as wisps, anomalies noticed only by dedicated weather-watchers. Slowly they’d grown, started to glint in the early-winter afternoon. They solidified, their sides becoming more faceted, more opaquely white. They started to shed shadows.

Social media went mad with theories. The things were dismissed as mirages, hoaxes, advertising gimmicks for a TV show. They were heralded as angels, abominated as an alien attack or a new superweapon.

The first appeared over City Hall. This was plausibly a strategic target, which increased the sense of panic, though Parliament was only a few miles away and would have seemed a more obvious choice. Others quickly thickened into visibility over Lewisham and Elephant and Castle and up my way.

Some stayed still. Others began to drift slowly, seemingly randomly, according to their own currents, not the winds.

All but military flights over the city were banned. The army and specialist police units came onto the streets. Jets went low overhead, and bristling helicopters rose suspiciously and seemed to sniff at the sides and undersides of the eddying things.

I was about eleven—this was almost fifteen years ago. There was me, Robbie, Sal—she was big for her age and bossed the rest of us around a bit—and Ian, a nervous kid to whom I wasn’t nice.

We were under Mass 2, as it was later dubbed. It rocked sedately from side to side over the skies of Neasden as I and my friends ran in urgent delight around the gawping north Londoners. We ran to keep up with it, following it toward Harlesden. It seemed to be the most excitable of the visitations, heading east and south like an unstable ship.

From every one of the masses sank microclimates. We were all wearing our thickest clothes in the air that poured off them. It was like a bitterly cold wind flowing straight down, gusting with wispy snow.

It was all frenetic, it’s hard to say just what happened when. I remember running really fast past the clock on Station Road, where it meets Wendover Road and Avenue Road, barreling by a woman in a black jilbaab and knocking her shopping over so she shouted at me furiously and I yelled something like “Shut up you old cow!” to make my friends laugh even though I knew I was in the wrong. It seems strange to me now that I remember that, that I took a moment to answer her, that she was so angry with me, that she even noticed me, in the shadow of what was overhead.

“Look at that thing, man!” Robbie said. Army vehicles went past the Portuguese cafés and the Islamic bookshop.

We ran full pelt all the way to the West London Crematorium. As if they’d have let a gang of raucous kids like us in to the grounds, normally, but they didn’t care: everyone was pushing through the gates because the mass was right overhead. It rose above the gardens of remembrance. There must have been funerals going on that day, with hundreds of strangers in the garden, and that thing above.

People were trawling for information, watching the news on their phones, but by the time the government scientists announced the results of their tests (whatever they were and however they’d taken them) their conclusions were obvious to everyone. We all knew that what hung above London were icebergs.

Military pilots made heroic maneuvers through the cold vortexes around the masses. Their undersides and flanks were frost- and snow-furred ice. On top, invisible from London until we saw the footage from the planes, jutting toward the lowest cloud, they were almost snowless. They were like white glass, hills and hillocks of blocky facets.

The city heat met their cold. On day two a frozen stalactite like a giant icicle broke off Mass 4 and plummeted to the ground, destroying a car in Dagenham and starting a whole new panic. I texted with my crew. We agreed to meet right below Mass 2 again. It was as if we were goading it. We were eleven and death couldn’t touch us.

The berg had stopped above the common of Wormwood Scrubs. A line of police officers surrounded the grass. “You ain’t coming in,” one said to us. The dirty parkland stretched behind him, overlooking London. Above it was the ice. We shivered in its shadow. I could hear the screams of London’s feral parakeets freaking out in the trees.

We were debating how to slip past the cops but before an hour passed they took some instruction over their radios and did not so much usher us in as simply give up being guards. Mass 2 was on the move again. We went whooping after it.

After the fall of that first pillar people got nervous. There were instructions to stay indoors, as though it would be better to be crushed by a ruined house than by the ice itself. In fact the bergs were very solid. In the first week of their existence, only three slabs of any size came down, causing damage but no fatalities.

They weren’t the only chunks to break off: they were the only ones to fall.

I was at Brent Cross Shopping Center with my mum and dad and my sister the first time I saw one of the icebergs break. It was a few days after their appearance and we were shopping for a football kit I needed. We were in the car-park and I was looking at Mass 4, I think it was, hovering miles away above Ealing. My dad told me to hurry up, and as he turned we heard a cracking. A chunk of ice the size of a building broke off the northern edge of the berg.

I gasped and my dad let out a horrified noise as the block toppled sideways, spinning—and then stopped. It didn’t fall—it drifted away horizontally. It bobbed, spinning, leaving a little wake of suspended ice. We looked at each other.

The breakaway drifted back, and coagulated again with the main mass, a day and a half later.

It was two days post-manifestation that the first official government survey team made icefall. Scientists, professional explorers, a few international observers, an escort of Royal Marine commandos. In the press release, they all wore cutting-edge arctic gear and determined expressions.

They went for Mass 3. It had a horizontal plateau breaking up the slopes of its topside, onto which a helicopter could lower them. By now, all the icebergs had been given their own names, usually based on their silhouettes. The London Evening Standard declared this the “ascent of the Saucepan.” They live-streamed the delivery online, soldiers in thermal clothes lowered on swaying cables onto the pristine blowing surface of the ice, to make base camp almost a mile over Battersea.

Over the next five days we all followed the team’s terse dispatches, their tweets and photographs, footage from their cameras, as Mass 3 itself described a wobbling circuit above the city. People leaned shivering out of their offices to look as it overflew. “The Saucepan” was escorted by military helicopters. If you were at a high point in the city looking out at the icebergs, you could see Mass 3 was surrounded with the specks of aircraft.

We read the reports of the team struggling up sides of ice, stared at the images they beamed down. Of course we were all caught up in the drama, and no one would deny how brave they were. Now, though, a few years on, so it’s not like pissing in church any more to pass comment, it’s fair to say that it was mostly the sort of thing you’d expect from any arctic adventure. Freezing winds, terrible ice, so on.

I suppose I’m saying that Mass 3, like all of them, is exactly what it looks like: an iceberg. No more, no less. Cold, austere, barren. Awesome, of course, because since when were icebergs not? But, and bear with me with this, except for the fact that it’s levitating above London, it seems no more nor less awesome than its cousins in the sea.

There were, though, two exceptional images from that expedition. The first is the iconic shot of the team crossing an ice bridge between two forbidding white crags, with the slates and aerials of Wandsworth far below. The second is the selfie of Dr. Joanna Lund, taken close to the iceberg’s summit.

Dr. Lund looks unhappily at the camera. She’s slight, with squinting eyes circled in dark, her hat pulled down hard over her ears. Behind her is the pinnacle. You can just see the rest of the team at its base, looking up at the white blocks. There’s the usual hard beauty of such landscapes. The city is not visible. The ice could be any ice. But there’s a flat quality to the light and something in Lund’s expression that makes the picture profoundly unsettling.

In the debriefing after the team’s extraction, the government was keen to stress that they had, of course, considered the possibility that the icebergs might collide. If that was true, any protocols they had in place utterly failed.

On the morning of 17 June, the very day that last photo of Lund was released—while, we were told, the team were attempting an ascent of that troublesome ice—Mass 6, nicknamed Big Bear, began rolling with unusual speed across the skies, north away from Croydon.

At first this caused no particular alarm. But as the hours passed and Mass 6 accelerated, and as Mass 3’s own sedate trajectory altered, it became obvious that the two were on a collision course.

Table of Contents

Three Moments of an Explosion 3

Polynia 5

The Condition of New Death 23

The Dowager of Bees 28

In The Slopes 44

The Crawl 78

Watching God 84

The 9th Technique 98

The Rope is the World 108

The Buzzard's Egg 113

Säcken 127

Syllabus 153

Dreaded Outcome 156

After The Festival 171

The Dusty Hat 197

Escapee 219

The Bastard Prompt 224

Rules 249

Estate 252

Keep 261

A Second Slice Manifesto 295

Covehithe 299

The Junket 312

Four Final Orpheuses 328

The Rabbet 330

Listen the Birds 346

A Mount 351

The Design 355

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